You’ve probably seen plenty of photos of the Curiosity Mars rover and its successor Perseverance. However, those photos were all taken here on Earth or by the rovers themselves on the red planet. For the first time, we now have an aerial shot of NASA’s robotic explorer, courtesy of the Ingenuity helicopter.
Ingenuity rode to Mars attached to the Perseverance rover, but NASA deployed the drone a few weeks ago after finding an acceptable makeshift airfield. That location is now known as Wright Brothers Field in recognition of this monumental feat of engineering. Ingenuity has completed three test flights on Mars so far, including one on April 25th that featured a higher altitude and side-to-side movement.
NASA is still going through the data collected during the most recent flight, and it shared the incredible aerial shot on April 27th. You might not notice at first, but the Perseverance rover is visible in the upper left corner of the frame. According to NASA, this photo was taken when Ingenuity was 279 feet (85 meters) from Perseverance. It was able to see the rover because this third test saw the drone ascend to an altitude of 16.5 feet (5 meters). While the helicopter traveled 330 feet (100 meters) during the test, NASA didn’t let it get too close to the rover.
Ingenuity doesn’t carry any important scientific instruments, and its camera hardware is limited. This is a technology demonstration, a late addition to the Perseverance mission. However, future Mars missions could benefit from this first step toward powered flight on the red planet. Not only has Ingenuity shown that flight is possible, but it’s also running off-the-shelf hardware such as a Snapdragon 801 smartphone processor.
Oh hey, there I am! Never thought I’d be the subject of another photographer on Mars. Great capture by the #MarsHelicopter team.
📷: https://t.co/HS53o5kU3y https://t.co/5HUdagWxw4
— NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover (@NASAPersevere) April 28, 2021
As a piece of demo hardware running non-hardened components, NASA doesn’t expect Ingenuity to last long on the red planet. In fact, the drone’s flight window is rapidly closing. NASA hopes to complete two more tests before May when the team will shift its focus to Perseverance. In the final tests, Ingenuity could fly as far as 2,000 feet (600 meters), which would take a rover like Perseverance more than four hours if it drove it all in one go. Of course, NASA would never tell it to do that. Hopefully, the helicopter’s final flights provide some imagery at least as cool as this aerial shot of its robotic companion.
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